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Which OS are you?

Which OS are you?
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First Published: Wed, Apr 18 2007. 12 31 AM IST
Updated: Wed, Apr 18 2007. 12 31 AM IST
It is always difficult to get used to a completely different way of life. This holds true for absolutely everything. Including computer operating systems (OS). Sooner or later, you will have to decide: When should you switch to Microsoft Windows Vista? Should you?
According to several users and experts, Vista is not too different from its predecessors and the learning curve isn’t as much as was expected. But the changes to the user interface (UI) mean that there will be a number of new things to learn and a number of old ones to unlearn.
This is what your decision will hinge on. Would you rather learn a new system that is buggy and still unstable, or one that has long been acknowledged as the best, but has only recently come around to having a large enough third-party software support base to appeal to everyday users? Of course, we are referring to the Apple Mac OSX.
The decision is tricky, certainly not easy. Both OSes have their pluses and minuses. Windows has a very large pool community that is taking the torch ahead and there are plenty of third-party vendors who have created and continue to create newer and better programmes for the Windows platform. On the other hand, it is an extremely unstable operating system and one that is prone to virus attacks and crashes more often than Mac.
But the real deciding factor would be your usage pattern. Before we start comparing some specific packages for users, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both OSes.
UI and ease of use
If Windows XP was the ugly duckling, Windows Vista is supposed to be the swan. A major facelift has ensured that Vista is now far better looking and more intuitive than previous versions of Windows. Whether this is true, only time will tell. One of the things that Macs have always boasted of is a good UI and ease of use. If you are switching from Windows, it could take time to get used to.
A Mac keyboard layout is not identical to a Windows computer’s. We are not just referring to the different positions of the Page Up or Delete keys. There are new keys here such as Command and Function that do more than tertiary application launches. Unlike on a Windows computer, there is no Start button either. The Apple logo to the top left takes care of most system-related functions like Recent Programmes, Shut Down and Restart.
Also, most Mac programmes can be left running in the background without their taking up screen space. Only the active programme’s toolbar will be visible on screen. At times, when no document or file is open for that programme, you may not even know that the programme is open. That’s when the dock is handy.
Every running programme is highlighted on the dock with a small arrow under it. Clicking on the icon will bring the programme to the front and offer access to the toolbar and all other functions you will need to use.
Once you are past this (and it will take a little while to get comfortable with it), using the Mac is a breeze. There are some advantages that Windows offers over this, however. For one, your active programmes are visible in the form of windows on your taskbar. Convenient, but in case of smaller screens (even 15-inch ones), it can be a challenge to not have too many windows open and lose sight of unnecessary ones that hog processing power.
Security has long been a major concern for most Windows users. With a large number of viruses doing the rounds, anti-virus software is a must. And that costs a neat sum. As it does with a Mac. The real difference is that a Mac is perceived to be much safer and prone to fewer virus attacks. We are not saying that it’s virus-free, but it’s not as problematic as a Windows machine would be.
With Vista, this is set to change. Improved Firewall features and better encryption promise a safer ride.
Heading over to actual functions and programmes that one uses, here’s a comparison of the various features of both OSes.
Range of software available
If the Mac has one Achilles’ heel, this would be it. There just isn’t enough third-party software for a Mac compared with a Windows computer. While all essentials are available, it’s the smaller and more specialized ones that can be tough to find. And it’s not just about software. If you are a gamer, you may just have a tough time finding (or waiting) for a Mac version. Once available, though, it will be miles ahead of anything you could imagine in terms of performance and looks.
For most users, a word processor, spreadsheet and mail client are important. And if MS Office is your holy grail, don’t worry. Office for Mac takes care of that. The familiar Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook are all available in Mac versions. (The Outlook parallel for Mac is called Entourage and it works just as well). Without getting too much into the specifics, let us say that these are identical to the Windows programmes and just as robust.
Entourage may, in fact, be a bit better than Outlook, with features such as Project Center that allow you to view all activity around a particular project in one area. Of course, you have to set it up, but it’s a useful tool.
For the publishing industry or graphic artists, Mac has been the computer of choice for long, thanks to superior graphics and better performance and there’s no changing this.
With the introduction of Intel-based Macs, there is greater expandability thanks to the fact that you can run both Windows and OSX on the same computer. All you need is a software like Parallels Desktop. Ensure, however, that you have the requisite hardware to run a dual-boot computer.
Wireless connectivity
AirPort Extreme sounds like a fast bus to the airport. It is, in fact, Apple’s Wi-Fi adapter. Now, it’s built into most new machines. User experience says that it works a lot better than any Wi-Fi adapter seen on Windows machines. Logging on to a wireless network is a piece of cake and our Mac brought back more networks than the Windows machine did.
Windows XP had Find and Vista has Search, but OSX has Spotlight. It’s the desktop search tool that indexes everything on your computer. The search is so fast that by the time you have finished typing your keyword, the results have started appearing. And you can choose how you want to sort them. It sounds basic and it is. But it’s powerful enough to be considered intuitive and necessary. Quite addictive, really.
iLife, iWork, .Mac
These are some of the productivity and fun software suites available with Mac (all need to be bought separately). The .Mac is an online service that gives you an email address and web space to back up data and host your own site. Why would you do that? Because everything then becomes simpler since the user-end integration has already been done on your Mac. .Mac members can create private, ad-free online communities for family, friends and closed-user groups to share, coordinate and communicate. The entire group can post files and other data to iDisk, publish web pages and post links to other sites. The integration extends to sharing dates and events with others using iCal calendar.
iLife and iWork are productivity tools that include a photo viewer, a DVD viewer and even a website creator.
Perhaps the most interesting is the Garage Band that lets you create your own audio, including Podcasts. Yes, all this is also possible on a Windows machine and you have specialized free software to facilitate this. But the free software is not always up to the mark and you do need to know a lot about a lot to do some things well.
OSX Panther
The current version of OSX is the Tiger. The next version (expected by October 2007) is called Panther. Panther has new features like Time Machine, an automated system that backs up everything such as music, photos, movies and documents. Time Machine has the ability to take you back in time to restore your system in case of a crash and, at least, be at a point close to the crash. Additionally, there are expected to be improved versions of Spotlight and additional features like Spaces that let you organize your windows into different groups on the screen.
Much of this would seem to be superficial and overlaid features but they are usability advantages that make life easier. Having said that, this is not an article about advocating for Macs.
There are, however, plenty of reasons to stay with Windows, including the cost. While a Windows machine that has Vista on it may cost about Rs60,000 (varying with the configuration and the manufacturer), a Mac with similar specs would cost about 30% more. And despite all arguments about having to relearn a new OS, Vista will offer some familiarity if you upgrade. It really is a tough choice.
(Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com)
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First Published: Wed, Apr 18 2007. 12 31 AM IST
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